Report reignites pill testing debate

THE Palaszczuk Government has ruled out going it alone on pill testing trials this summer after an independent report found it was "clearly viable" and reduced risky behaviours.

The Australian National University will today release a study of a major pill testing trial in Canberra earlier this year, concluding it worked and prompted some users to dump potentially lethal drugs.

The report has reignited debate over pill testing on the eve of the summer music festival season with Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles and ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith both calling for a national response.

Police with sniffer dogs search people after they enter through the main entrance at the Listen Out Music Festival in Sydney in October. Picture by Damian Shaw
Police with sniffer dogs search people after they enter through the main entrance at the Listen Out Music Festival in Sydney in October. Picture by Damian Shaw

One person has already died this summer from an overdose at a festival in NSW.

The NSW coroner last month recommended pill testing at music festivals after investigating six deaths, including Queensland man Joshua Tam, 22, last summer from overdoses.

ANU senior lecturer Anna Olsen said the Canberra trial, which took place at the Groovin the Moo festival April, could be a model for similar trials across the country.

"This report clearly shows pill testing is viable and under the right circumstances provides effective relevant and good health information to people who plan to use illicit drugs," Dr Olsen said.

"The service also provided valuable new information on the drug market at the time, detecting a dangerous substance in circulation as well as finding that a high proportion of the drugs presented for testing were MDMA."

Other key findings included that all participants with drugs identified as potentially lethal disposed of them in a bin, about 30 per cent reported they intended to reduce their use of drugs or stop using them and that important health messages had "cut through".

A pill testing machine is seen during a briefing with medical practitioners responsible for the recent pill testing trial in the ACT. Picture: AAP Image/Jeremy Piper
A pill testing machine is seen during a briefing with medical practitioners responsible for the recent pill testing trial in the ACT. Picture: AAP Image/Jeremy Piper

Mr Miles said the government would look at the findings however he believed a "nationally consistent approach to drug harm minimisation is ideal".

"Festivals that move around from state-to-state should operate under the same rules," he said.

"Similarly, a young person who travels interstate to attend a festival should also have the same experience across the border.

"Efforts to reduce drug-related harms, and to keep young people safe at music festivals require a comprehensive suite of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies."

 

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles wants a national response to pill testing. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles wants a national response to pill testing. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

There have been calls for pill testing to be put on the agenda at of the COAG Health Council early next year however both NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt do not support the move.

Mr Hunt has said the idea of "condoning, encouraging and supporting" drug use was "utterly unthinkable".

"This is not a position which the Australian Government will be adopting," he said.


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